Do your eyes deceive you? As if you needed to ask...
Jeremy Paxman was pretending to talk to a man who was no longer there
Monday 14 December 1998
That was bad enough.
What The Guardian and Broadcast didn't report was something worse, that a recent edition of Newsnight was also rigged.
There was a sequence in which Jeremy Paxman was asking questions of a well known politician, and the politician was giving his well known answers. As the politician talked, the camera cut to Paxman for his reactions, and he was seen nodding slightly, as if he was interested either in what the man was saying, or in the next question he was going to put to him.
I can now reveal that Paxman was not, while seen nodding, in fact listening to the politician at all.
Indeed, the politician was not there at all.
The politician had had to leave in a hurry after the interview, and so the reaction shots had to be done while Paxman was all alone. I can also reveal that Paxman had to ask some of the questions again long after the politician had given the answers and disappeared, and was therefore pretending to talk to a man who was not there.
The BBC is well aware that this kind of deception takes place on a regular basis, and refuses to do anything about it.
I can further reveal that Jeremy Paxman is not the only television performer guilty of this sort of deception. Everyone else does it as well. Almost everyone you see on TV nodding or smiling or frowning in agreement and disagreement is doing it for the camera, long after the moment which provoked the reaction has passed.
Almost everything that happens on television doesn't really happen. It has to be rehearsed, rearranged, repeated, reassembled or dismantled, so that it works. Contests on game shows say the spontaneous things they have planned beforehand. Canned laughter is fed in, just in case the audience doesn't laugh loud enough. Even when a documentary is telling the truth, it has to fix things to make them seem as true as they are.
I can reveal that the cinema is no less guilty than television. When the hero falls from the train, or jumps on to the passing horse, it is very often not the star whom we are watching, but a stunt man.
Indeed, there was a film some years back in which David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich both featured. The film had several scenes in which Dietrich and Bowie were alone together, deep in talk. Bowie was later asked what he had made of the ageing, legendary Dietrich, and he revealed that he had never met her. Their scenes together were not shot in two-shot; the camera always cut from the face of one to the face of the other, and each person had played his or her part at a different time and in a different country.
Of course, theatre-goers would claim that at least the stage is for real. What you see is what you get. Everything happens as it happens. But this is not true either. Nightly, Macbeth dies at the end of the Scottish play. I can now reveal that he does not die at all, but only pretends to die - indeed, even more disgracefully, he comes back again the following night and the night after that, to die all over again.
Yet as soon as the curtain falls, the supposedly dead Macbeth jumps up and is as alive as ever.
I can also reveal that books are no more to be trusted. A travel writer once told me that half the conversations he put into his travel books were not remembered, but made up to resemble the sort of conversations he did have on the road. Trouble was, he now couldn't remember which half were made up and which were real.
So whom are we to trust?
Which documentary can we assume is really telling the truth about things?
If everything is rigged, can we believe anything?
Should I now reveal that this article is, in fact, totally fabricated from start to finish?
Of course not. But I can at least suggest a solution to the Carlton drug documentary dilemma.
The next time that they have a well shot, well made and well acted documentary which turns out to be based on a complete fiction, don't change the programme. Simply change the category and relabel it as a drama.
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